In Bali rice is life. The cycles of community life are centered around the cycles of rice farming. Yes, rice is the island’s staple food – but it is much more.
1. Dewi Sri, the goddess of rice, is the favorite manifestation of God among the Balinese.
2. Rice is used as an offering to both the benevolent and evil spirits.
Each day a small woven palm frond tray with a pinch of cooked rice, or nasi, along with possibly a frangipani blossom, a little betel or a stick of incense is casually placed on the ground around the family compound to keep evil spirits at bay.
3. Finally, growing rice is a cooperative community effort, thus the social and cultural framework of village life.
Rice cultivation in Bali goes back at least 2,000 years. Many of the terraced rice fields and the water distribution system of ditches and diversionary dams one sees today were built by hand in the ninth century. Along this extensive water system is a network of temples, the holiest being Ulun Danu Batur which sits above the crater lake Batur. Below Batur, but above entire farming regions are the large Masceti temples that control water flow for an entire watershed and set irrigation schedules. Below the Masceti temples are the Ulun Swi temples which connect with a single canal, weir or spring and supplies the subuks or group of farms below. Each Subuk or farm collective has its own temple as well. And to complete the network of temples, each farm will have a small temple or shrine. Rituals and ceremonies are performed and offerings are made at all water temples. Many are quite elaborate and include gamelans. Besides asking for plenty of water and good crops, the rituals connect people from the various communities and serve as a reminder that everyone is dependent on water as well as one another.
This communal/spiritual method for rice farming along with abundant rainfall and rich volcanic soil allows the Balinese to harvest two to three crops per year with yields near the highest anywhere.
And then there is the breathtaking beauty of terraced rice fields fringed by coconut palms and volcanic mountains as a backdrop.
A thousand shades of green.
Without a doubt, the most memorable times in Bali were the few days we stayed at a guesthouse in a rice field. Endless walks through rice fields, watching locals come and go along the track that traverses the fields from top to bottom, seeing ducks being herded into freshly harvested paddys to gobble up insects and the remaining grains and to leave their fertilizer. Did I mention delicious roast duck for dinner? Tuning out an endless crowing of roosters. Most fascinating, though, was sitting on our veranda watching rice being harvested by hand as it has been for hundreds of years. Men and women from the local subuk working together.
“Bali’s Rice Culture” is a photo gallery of the beautiful terraced rice fields of Bali, images of the rice planting and harvesting